Ask the MultiValued Visual Basic Expert - #7

(as published in Spectrum magazine Nov/Dec 1997)

updated Sept. 22, 1997
To email your questions to "Ask the MultiValued VB Expert", click here.
Copyright 1997 Caduceus Consulting. All rights reserved.

News Groups

The time has come for me to add a GUI front-end to my MultiValue database. Visual Basic seems to be the most popular language, but lately I've been hearing a lot about Delphi. Which do you think is better?

I want to move my old 'Pick' applications on to an NT box. There are now at least four flavors available: uniVerse, D3, mvBASE, and Unidata. Any recommendations?

My company sells packaging products, not computers. The guy who sold us our Pick-based software is going out of business. We have no money for a high-priced consultant. Where can we go for help?

Patience, gentle reader - I know what you're thinking: what have the last two questions got to do with Visual Basic? Answer: not much. Given a shortage of VB-specific questions this month, I decided to branch out a bit. To tell the truth, I hear questions like the above three all the time. As a consultant, I get to define my position on these points privately, but instead of making those opinions public here, I'm going to tell you how you can get the answers yourself. (After all, this is not supposed to be an opinion column.)

 

The Answers are Out There

This month's article is devoted to the Internet news groups. Now before any of you neophyte or dyed-in-the-wool Wyse 50 users leave this page, let me tell you that if you have never read the postings to the 'Pick' news group, what I'm going to tell you may just change your life. I mean it. The news groups are a public forum for a sharing of ideas on a common topic. One in particular should have relevance to every reader of this magazine. It is called "comp.databases.pick" (or "CDP" for the news-junkies). When you read your first postings from that news group, you'll feel like you've just joined the most amazing self-help group for Pick. It is a worldwide collection of the most knowledgeable people in the industry AND newcomers who are at least savvy enough to know where to go to ask questions. In other words, people just like yourself. There you will find (right now, in fact) a variety of on-going discussions that answer this month's questions, and a lot more.

And just in case you don't know where to begin, I am going to tell you exactly what to do. For those of you who already regular news readers, stick around - you might just pick up a useful tip or two.

 

How it All Works

We will begin at the beginning. Back in the 80's, before there was an Internet or World Wide Web, there was Usenet. Usenet was (and is) the official name for the newsgroup system. Usenet is entirely text-based - there are no inherent graphics or fancy fonts (although some newsgroups are now devoted to binary data that is still sent as text). Each news posting comes in three parts: a heading describing the topic, the main body with the text of the posting, and assorted control data telling who posted it, etc. Here's how it works:

  1. A group of users decide that they would like to create a newsgroup to discuss a particular area of interest. [There is now an official process, too lengthy to describe here, that they must go through to register a new newsgroup. CDP had many postings recently from supporters and detractors of establishing a group specifically for Advanced Revelation users.] Newsgroups are named based on a hierarchy of increasingly focused interests. In other words, readers of "comp.lang" may discuss computer languages in general, "comp.lang.basic" readers discuss the BASIC language, and "comp.lang.basic.visual" deals with Visual Basic, and so on.
  2. The newsgroup name is added to a list of all active newsgroups (around 20,000 at my last count), most (but by no means all) interacting in English.
  3. If you wish to access the newsgroup, you will need a 'news reader' application installed on your PC and have some kind of access to Usenet or the Internet. Some browsers (e.g. Netscape) have built-in news readers. Others are available for free (or with more features for a small fee) from web sites. I personally recommend "Agent" (or it's free cousin: "Free Agent"), available at www.forteinc.com.
  4. You then 'subscribe' to the newsgroup. Note that there is NO commitment here: no fees, no name added to any list - you are simply telling your news reader application to get the latest postings for the 'subscribed' newsgroup.
  5. When you are connected to the Internet, your news reader can retrieve the latest postings for all of the newsgroups that you subscribe to. Often the headings are downloaded first so that you may select which postings you would like to see the many body of. The content of all of the possible newsgroups is stored on a 'news server' which is usually maintained by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). In order to deal with the massive volume of postings every day, most ISP's will keep a new posting on-line for about one week only. (I'll tell you how you can find it after that - read on.)
  6. Newsgroup postings are organized into discussion 'threads'. Let us assume that you read a posted question and wish to post a response, or you read an article that you feel compelled to comment on. Using your news reader, you can post your own posting back to the newsgroup. So long as you don't change the heading data (like the 'subject' line for email), your post will eventually be circulated around the globe and appear along with other responses in the original thread. You can easily start you own thread (to post your own question for instance) by typing in your own heading.

That's all there is to it. You can then read about other real MultiValue users and developers, their experiences, their questions and answers, their discoveries, their job searches, their narrow-minded opinions - it's all there. You will likely be surprised by just how much is happening all around you.

 

How to Catch Up

I can't wrap up this month's column without giving you more direct access to the opening questions. I told you that they were in comp.databases.pick, but a week has already gone by and you may have missed the threads. So here's the best part, and YOU DON'T EVEN NEED A NEWS READER! Run, don't walk, to www.dejanews.com. That web site has all the news that has ever been (some not fit to print, of course). Searching it for a topic is dead easy, and you can even follow the whole original thread. See you in CDP!

To email your questions to "Ask the MultiValued VB Expert", click here.
Copyright 1997 Caduceus Consulting. All rights reserved.
Revised: September 22, 1997.

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